Saturday, March 03, 2007

When is helping unhelpful?

I have great respect for the tech coordinators of the other divisions at work. The middle school tech coordinator seems especially well respected. He is hardworking and knowedgeable. He can see the big picture and has enough history in the job to quickly identify key issues when we are discussing options.

Being new, I have especially appreciated how patiently he answers questions. He is unfailingly supportive. Therefore, it has come as a surprise to me how often in our coordinator meetings, he will make suggestions that I view as harsh towards our users.

Since I respect him so much, this has given me something to think about. It is making me realize that often my view is too short. I may be doing too much hand-holding in my division. My actions may be inspired by kindness , but they don't help my users grow. They don't help me work myself out of a job, as Jeff Utecht would say.

I put this to the test yesterday afternoon. A third grade teacher came to me to discuss an upcoming project. She had seen a colleague's student brochure project and was impressed. She wanted to try something similar with her class. As we talked, she decided to use Microsoft Publisher. For this first project, we would give the students a template to follow. For the next project, we would let them create it from scratch.

This teacher is new to Publisher. She used it earlier this year to create a personal project, so she has some experience, but not much. My instinct said to sit with her, help her create the template for her students. Instead, I stepped back. I showed her how to access the pre-made brochure templates, and then told her to create what she wanted and I would use it with her students on Tuesday. She is a trooper and although she looked a bit surprised, she went off to give it a try. Hopefully she feels I am confident in her ability, and that feels like support instead of abandonment.

This is all making me realize I do a much better job of stretching the children I work with than the adults. I think of how often I ask children what they have tried, how they could figure it out. I do less of that with adults. Teachers are so busy that I tend to want to just fix the problem so they can get back to work. However, if they had been able to fix it themselves without contacting me, that would have been even quicker. I need to keep thinking about this. I need to think of this at a systems level. I don't know how to do that yet.